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  1. #126

    Default Re: Possible lawsuit against city regarding alleged open meetings violations

    Just published on the brilliant new OK Gazette website:

    *****


    Ward 2 councilman Ed Shadid drafts a resolution to shed light on council decision-making.
    BY BRETT DICKERSON

    Ward 2 councilman Ed Shadid is pushing for more transparency in Oklahoma City Council's economic development decisions.
    After weeks of sharply negative exchanges on the Oklahoma City Council concerning transparency of the body’s processes, there might be a way to lower tensions and empower the public.

    Oklahoma Gazette has learned that a proposed resolution has been drafted that, if passed by the council, will give the public over 30 days to consider economic development proposals instead of the typical three to four days they currently have to engage an idea before the council votes.

    “I am cautiously ecstatic. The council still needs to pass it, and that’s why I’m cautious. But I’m ecstatic because of the possibilities for the public.”

    “The public has a right to know how the sausage is being made,” said Ward 2 councilman Ed Shadid, who advocates for the public knowing far more about city decision-making.
    Shadid has been sharply critical of what he perceives to be a lack of transparency in the process where the council votes for millions of dollars in economic development incentives and the sale of public property with mysteriously little discussion between members before voting.

    The problem
    Citizens have objected to an opaque process where proposals to spend millions in taxpayer dollars show up on the council's agenda on a Friday afternoon and are then passed the following Tuesday with virtually no preamble or debate. The recent sale of the Santa Fe Parking Garage downtown with similarly little discussion has commanded even more of the public's attention.

    But none have been as vocal and persistent about the matter as Shadid. He has said on several occasions and in a July 17 news release that he has witnessed for years a practice in which three or four members of the council would be invited to an informal meeting before and then another small group of council members invited after the public meeting. He said he has witnessed city manager Jim Couch and Alliance for Economic Development director Cathy O'Connor meeting with each group of three to four and discussing economic development proposals before they were ever on the public agenda.
    Then they would relay what the first group had said in the other meeting. If the two smaller groups were still not in agreement, the conversation would move back to the other group later. Shadid said this would continue until council members were close to agreement before a public vote would be taken.

    Showdown
    A showdown of sorts happened during the Items from Council section of the council’s July 31 meeting. Terse words were exchanged between Shadid and Ward 8 councilman Mark Stonecipher in an exchange uncharacteristic of the usual banter between council members.

    Shadid said it was a regular practice to hold the serial meetings when it came to economic development proposals.

    Shadid accused city manager Couch of engineering votes for particular economic development packages by splitting the council into a series of smaller meetings that would not constitute a quorum and then communicating concerns and ideas from one group to the other until the members were close to the agreement.

    Usually quiet Stonecipher interrupted Shadid, saying “That’s not true. I have never seen that.”

    Municipal counselor Kenneth Jordan maintains that the practice is legal and does not violate Oklahoma’s Open Meeting Act as long as there is less than a quorum of the council members present in the small meetings.

    The exchange ended with Stonecipher asking Shadid to sit down “one more time” with he and Jordan to review case law.

    “You will lose if you take this to court,” Stonecipher said sternly as he pointed his finger toward Shadid on the other side of the council horseshoe.

    Case law
    Stonecipher and Jordan point to an Alabama case as the model for why the city’s current practice is legally sound.

    Shadid's attorney, Cameron Spradling, argues that Oklahoma case law and legal opinions from Oklahoma attorneys general and the U.S. Supreme Court far outweigh an Alabama case.

    In a letter to Stonecipher and Jordan, Spradling cited four opinions by Oklahoma attorneys general that clarify the Open Meeting Act. All push for more transparency and the decision-making process to be in full public view.

    One of those opinions in 1982 by attorney general Jan Eric Cartwright said, "If government officials use their private or social time to discuss agenda items and, even more importantly, to determine how they will vote, the purpose of the open meeting law will have been circumvented. Public access to a mere ‘rubber stamp’ vote is all but useless.”

    A prior 1981 AG opinion states that the Open Meeting Act “reaches, not just ‘formal’ meetings, but the ‘entire decision-making process.’”

    Meetings
    Over the last two weeks, Shadid and Spradling met several times with Stonecipher, Jordan and attorneys on Jordan’s staff.

    After a key meeting Thursday at the end of the day, Shadid told Gazette that he was “very, very excited” about the possibilities after attorneys agreed on a draft resolution that could be on the agenda of the Aug. 28 meeting of the council. The agenda for that meeting will be posted on Friday afternoon, Aug. 24.

    Details of the draft have been embargoed until it is posted on the agenda.

    “It was a good group effort,” said Shadid. “Everybody came up with a good solution.”

    Early Friday, Stonecipher sent a text message in response to Gazette’s requests for an interview following the meeting.

    “We have had three meetings. I thought they were productive meetings. It is important to remember that we get paid to govern, not litigate. So, we should always try and resolve our differences constructively and informally,” Stonecipher wrote.

    Ryan resolution
    According to Shadid’s attorney, the draft resolution about economic development proposals is patterned after the Ryan Resolution of 2010 that calls for the council to put proposals for new ordinances on the council agenda three times.

    The first time on the council agenda is to introduce the proposal. The second time is where the public will have an opportunity to engage with the council. The third time on the agenda is where the council votes.

    The draft resolution would give citizens over 30 days of public comment period to study a proposal and let their council member know their opinions.

    Legal options
    Shadid emphasized that he is positive about the latest developments. However, he is still prepared to go to court if the council decides not to adopt the resolution.

    He said the intent will be to establish “clear case law for the state.”

    "We can’t ask the attorney general for an opinion while in litigation. But if we don't go to court, then we will ask for an opinion," Shadid said. “This is much bigger than Oklahoma City.”

  2. Default Re: Possible lawsuit against city regarding alleged open meetings violations

    All of this is encouraging. I do wish Shadid would just pull the trigger regardless. It's not every day you have someone who is civic minded enough to put his money where his mouth is. Let's have a lawsuit. Let's see if an Alabama case (talk about your cherry picking) can reverse decades of precedent and AG opinions.

  3. #128

    Default Re: Possible lawsuit against city regarding alleged open meetings violations

    Pete, will this affect the state fair board at all? They should be more transparent and accountable as well. They have ruined what was once a great fair. (Yes, I’ve seen the rankings posted which I don’t agree with)

  4. #129

    Default Re: Possible lawsuit against city regarding alleged open meetings violations

    I very much like the resolution calling for 3 times on the council agenda. I hope it passes.

  5. #130

    Default Re: Possible lawsuit against city regarding alleged open meetings violations

    Quote Originally Posted by shawnw View Post
    I very much like the resolution calling for 3 times on the council agenda. I hope it passes.
    The odds of anything getting done would go way down. It is uneconomical and inefficient. The more times you allow people to screw up, the more likely they will. 2 at most would be ideal. 1 with the public able to contribute, then 2 for the actual voting. Just my opinion.

  6. #131

    Default Re: Possible lawsuit against city regarding alleged open meetings violations

    Quote Originally Posted by jonny d View Post
    1 with the public able to contribute, then 2 for the actual voting
    That is exactly the plan.

  7. #132

    Default Re: Possible lawsuit against city regarding alleged open meetings violations

    Wow. Some great journalism already happening to initiate the types of conversations the community needs. Great work.

  8. #133

    Default Re: Possible lawsuit against city regarding alleged open meetings violations

    Not only great journalism, but a great example of how one man, Ed Shadid, can make a difference. If this actually happens, it will remove a stain on municipal government and help many have confidence again in our local system. Great job Oklahoma Gazette/OKCTalk!

  9. Default Re: Possible lawsuit against city regarding alleged open meetings violations

    Love the work that's being done here and that's some top-notch journalism... But geez, Pete, please buy Lance a tripod or something. Especially at the end of his reporting, that video was shaking all over the place. (All in all, a minor complaint - good work otherwise!)

  10. #135

    Default Re: Possible lawsuit against city regarding alleged open meetings violations

    Quote Originally Posted by Pete View Post
    That is exactly the plan.
    I'm confused: in the Gazette story, Mr. Shadid's attorney said the agreement would require three meetings. Which is the case?

  11. Default Re: Possible lawsuit against city regarding alleged open meetings violations

    Quote Originally Posted by baralheia View Post
    Love the work that's being done here and that's some top-notch journalism... But geez, Pete, please buy Lance a tripod or something. Especially at the end of his reporting, that video was shaking all over the place. (All in all, a minor complaint - good work otherwise!)
    That's what we did when I worked at UCO's Channel 22. All my on-camera shots involved me talking to a camera on a tripod. Also, a decent clip mic with a wind screen is a must. I used to shoot, write and edit a 1.5 minute package every day back in the days we used cuts-only SVHS editors. Fun times.

    I know the Assistant AG who wrote those opinions extremely well. The city is dead wrong on all of this.

  12. Default Re: Possible lawsuit against city regarding alleged open meetings violations

    Quote Originally Posted by soonerguru View Post
    I'm confused: in the Gazette story, Mr. Shadid's attorney said the agreement would require three meetings. Which is the case?
    If I understand correctly, the process will work like this:

    There are 3 meetings.
    In the first meeting, the economic development proposal is announced.
    In the second meeting, the public is invited for comment on the proposal. This is where the actual discussion occurs.
    In the third meeting, the City Council votes on the proposal.

  13. #138

    Default Re: Possible lawsuit against city regarding alleged open meetings violations

    Quote Originally Posted by baralheia View Post
    If I understand correctly, the process will work like this:

    There are 3 meetings.
    In the first meeting, the economic development proposal is announced.
    In the second meeting, the public is invited for comment on the proposal. This is where the actual discussion occurs.
    In the third meeting, the City Council votes on the proposal.
    Nothing would get done. You give people multiple opportunities to stall or screw things up, they will.

  14. #139

    Default Re: Possible lawsuit against city regarding alleged open meetings violations

    Quote Originally Posted by jonny d View Post
    Nothing would get done. You give people multiple opportunities to stall or screw things up, they will.
    This is the process already followed with other types of approvals in OKC.

  15. #140

    Default Re: Possible lawsuit against city regarding alleged open meetings violations

    And in other cities, such as one of the benchmarks used here on OKCTalk - Seattle. In fact, I think Seattle has more than 3 but stuff gets built here.

    Involving the public or at least having the door open for discussion and involvement removes any criticism of corruption while giving the normal citizens a stake in the city's development and confidence in the process.

    Now, whether OKC steps up and attends the public meeting is another question - but the city should offer it.
    Oklahoma City, the RENAISSANCE CITY!

  16. #141

    Default Re: Possible lawsuit against city regarding alleged open meetings violations

    From the Gazette:

    ***************


    Money talks
    Oklahoma City Council will vote on two resolutions to increase the transparency of city business deals.
    BY NAZARENE HARRIS

    Ward 2 Oklahoma City Council member Ed Shadid is optimistic about two resolutions he said the council will vote on during its next meeting on Sept. 25.

    Shadid briefly discussed his reasoning behind the resolutions with council members in July after he said he noticed a trend of discreet meetings taking place between city council members and economic developers.

    He said for years he has watched as city manager Jim Couch and Alliance for Economic Development director Cathy O’ Connor met with small groups of city council members in private to discuss economic proposals before and after city council meetings.

    The economic proposals they discussed, he said, would appear on the council’s agenda on Friday afternoon and would pass a city council vote on the following Tuesday with little time for debate amongst council members and even less time for the public to consider the proposals.

    Ward 2 Oklahoma City councilman Ed Shadid set forth two transparency resolutions the council will vote on during their next meeting on Sept. 25th.
    “I’m cautiously ecstatic,” Shadid said in an August interview with Oklahoma Gazette. “The council still needs to pass it, and that’s why I’m cautious. But I’m ecstatic because of the possibilities for the public. The public has a right to know how the sausage is being made.”

    The sausage that’s made, Shadid said, is the sale of city property for economic development projects or the agreement to fund such projects.

    In May for example, Oklahoma City councilors voted to negotiate funding Amazon with more than $1 million to create a fulfillment center in OKC and employ 53 Oklahomans in the next five years and over 1,500 once the center is completed.

    Decisions like that one, Shadid said, deserve more attention from the public.

    Shadid is proposing that in the event that city developers wish to sell public assets like land or property, three public city council meetings take place. The first meeting would be to introduce the proposal, the second would be to hear from the public regarding their concerns and the third would be to vote.

    Each meeting would occur at least two weeks after the first, city attorney, Kenneth Jordan said in a letter to city council members that outlined the resolution. The resolution would allow for the public to have more than 30 days to consider economic proposals.

    Currently one public meeting is held by the city council to consider the sale of city property.

    Shadid’s resolution also calls for specific rules that would be incorporated in the event that a small group of city council members (between two and four) meet with economic developers in private.

    "Time is money. I fear that if any additional time is given, we run the risk of losing business opportunities." —Cathy O’ Connor

    The rules outlined in Jordan’s letter to council members are that the city clerk or city attorney attend each meeting unless a representative attends on their behalf and voting does not take place within meetings.

    Additionally, Shadid proposes that the city clerk give a seminar to all city employees who hold positions that allow them to attend the meetings. The seminar would introduce employees to the new rules and would familiarize them with the Oklahoma Open Meetings Act, a state law that was passed by Gov. David Boren in 1977 to make all state and local board and commission meetings open to the public.

    The same meeting rules would be applied if the economic proposal discussed in the meetings regarded funding of an economic development project like the agreement to provide Amazon with job-creation incentives, Shadid said.

    In that instance, however, the councilman recommends that two public meetings occur instead of three.

    O’Connor said the creation of any additional transparency measures for funding proposals would be unnecessary and costly to the public.

    “Quite frankly, we already have four public meetings that take place for funding projects,” O’Connor said. “Time is money. I fear that if any additional time is given, we run the risk of losing business opportunities.”

    O’Connor and Jordan said funding proposals are already publicly addressed twice by the Economic Development Trust and twice by Oklahoma City Council.

    Shadid said the small meetings conducted between some city council members and economic developers are in violation of the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act, a claim that Jordan counters.

    “These gatherings of administrative staff … are not ‘meetings’ as defined by the act, and in our legal opinion, the conduct of the briefings has not violated the act,” Jordan said in his letter.

    While Jordan disagrees with Shadid concerning the legality of the small meetings, he does recommend that the city council consider Shadid’s resolutions.

    City manager Jim Couch declined to comment but said he will support the city council whether they decide to adopt Shadid’s resolutions or not.

    Shadid, meanwhile, said he will not take a rejection of the resolutions lightly and will consider taking legal action against the city if they are not adopted.

    The city council will vote on the resolutions at its next council meeting beginning at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 200 N. Walker Ave.

  17. #142

    Default Re: Possible lawsuit against city regarding alleged open meetings violations

    Like I have said, if you give the public a chance to screw something up, most of the time they will. But in this case, I do think more transparency will be helpful.

  18. #143

    Default Re: Possible lawsuit against city regarding alleged open meetings violations

    Interesting to note the city almost immediately proposed this solution, even though no legal action has been taken.

  19. Default Re: Possible lawsuit against city regarding alleged open meetings violations

    Quote Originally Posted by Pete View Post
    Interesting to note the city almost immediately proposed this solution, even though no legal action has been taken.
    Ha, it's almost as if they know they're skating on thin ice now and think they have a good chance of losing a lawsuit if one was brought, so they're trying to head it off....

  20. #145

    Default Re: Possible lawsuit against city regarding alleged open meetings violations

    Is there any connection between all this and Couch retiring?

  21. #146

    Default Re: Possible lawsuit against city regarding alleged open meetings violations

    Pretty sure it was just about the wood paneling in his office.

  22. #147

    Default Re: Possible lawsuit against city regarding alleged open meetings violations

    huge correlation!

    and this is good. I honestly don't know how much time should be given because Cathy does bring up a good point; but I think there should be time allowed and there should be a formal meeting/adoption process. I know Vancouver BC puts up a large development sign over the property outlining the change of use and/or proposed development and then there's a timeframe to adopt. Why couldn't OKC follow something similar with its development, particularly of city owned land/buildings and urban renewal assets? Doesn't OKC already follow this process for other initiatives like ordinances, zoning, and trusts? why not for development?

    I think this also highlights the need for a new city manager to come from a bigger city (sorry, IMO KC is not big enough) that has experienced growth and successes with it. Austin would be a huge target or perhaps Charlotte, Portland, Nashville, or maybe even Omaha as a promotion (representative of a small city that has grown urban nicely). Also it needs to be an extension of Mayor Holt; which has a platform of inclusion, transparency, and youth - so I suspect/hope we can get the same in a city manager who will bring that culture to the city government staff - watch how quickly OKC gets for the better!
    Oklahoma City, the RENAISSANCE CITY!

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